What Educators Can Learn from Angry Birds

There are as many different types of games as there are different types of classrooms.  So, any conversation that seeks to extract lessons from the world of games to apply them to the classroom is bound to generalize.  For that reason, i decided to spend a moment examining one specific game that is wildly popular today and that most educators would not consider to be a shining example of an educational game.  I am referring to Angry Birds. Is it possible that this seemingly addictive and time-robbing game might have a few lessons for educators?  Consider the following ten attributes of the game and judge for yourself.

  1. Set a Clear Goal and Expect 100% Mastery – There is a minimum threshold for “success” on a given level. You must squash all the pigs.  90% is not passing in this game.  You need 100%.
  2. Reward Reaching the Goal with a New Challenge – Once you reach 100%, you get to move on to the next level.
  3. Allow an Unlimited Number of Attempts – Even though 100% completion of the task is necessary on each level, you can try as many times as you like until you reach that goal.
  4. Provide the Player/Learner with the Flexibility of Reaching the Same Goal, but Using Different Strategies – You can repeat and reach the goal through trial and error, looking for tips online, learning by looking over the shoulder of a friend or family member, or whatever other useful strategy comes to mind.
  5. Provide Feedback That Goes Beyond Simply Whether or Not Your Achieved the Baseline Goal – While squashing 100% of the pigs is adequate to move to the next level, that is not  considered a “perfect performance.”  In addition to squashing pigs, you can measure your performance by points and the number of stars that you earn on a level. So, there are multiple measures of performance that get at different aspects of your performance.  Did you reach the baseline goal?  How effective or efficient were you at reaching this goal?  There is a measure for both of these questions in the game.
  6. Blend Repetition with Novelty & Variety – Every level requires a similar set of skills, but they are applied in a new context with new challenges, and new and interesting scenes/locations.  You also get some extra “affordances” on different levels in the form of new bird with new features.
  7. Engage Multiple Senses – The game offers sights, sounds and the chance to manipulate your birds and the games by touch.
  8. Scaffold the Challenges, but Provide Easy Stages for Review  – Each new level (called a theme in Angry Birds) provides a new level of difficulty.  However, once you clear all the levels (themes) in one world, you move on to a new world.  The new world often starts with some easy challenges that then progress toward more difficult challenges again, largely by putting you in new contexts with novel features. This zig-zagged level of difficulty provides you with a chance to see how you have improved,  but it also gives you a chance to review and get adjusted to a new world/context before adding levels of difficulty.
  9. Performance on the Original Baseline Goal Is Constant Throughout the Game – There is never a time when you no longer need to meet 100% mastery of a level/theme before moving on.  There is no final letter grade or diploma, just new challenges that always require you to continue to prove that you still have the skills to meet the baseline goal.
  10. You Can Replay Any Past Theme – Once you reach the goal for a theme/level, it remains available to you to replay as often as you want.  Even if you have reached theme/level fourteen of world fourteen, you are free to go back and play theme one of world one or anything along the way.

What do you think?  Does Angry Birds have any lessons for educators?

Posted in blog, education, educational technology, Game-based Learning, GE4L

About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is an author, professor of education, Vice Provost of Curriculum and Academic Innovation, podcast host, and blogger. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, The Pedagogy of Faith (editor), Adventures in Self-Directed Learning, and Digitized: Spiritual Implications of Technology. He is passionate about futures in education; educational innovation; and social entrepreneurship.

2 Replies to “What Educators Can Learn from Angry Birds”

  1. David Black

    Absolutely! Note that these challenges within the game are all personalized. If two people were playing side by side they would rarely (if ever) be on the same level and activity.

    One other interesting point is the list of ways that a user may learn to improve. The feedback is not coming from a single person standing over them but through multiple sources, depending on the needs, interests, and aptitudes of the learner.

    There are also plenty of sites that document how educators have used Angry Birds to address physics and other scientific topics within the context of the game. In addition, there are quite a few collaborative experiments created in the context of Angry Birds where students have learned to work together in various ways.

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